WiSE Feature Interview- Sarah Sheard

How did you get started in the field of systems engineering?

After leaving graduate school I spoke with a former office mate who was working in satellite systems engineering and had this extremely attractive job doing the overall system, and I met his boss. I consider myself very fortunate to have been introduced to this early in my career.

What do you find interesting or exciting about working in the field of systems science and systems engineering?

No two days are alike. The range of things you can do in any one year is practically unlimited, and the field changes from year to year in an increasingly rapid fashion. It is impossible to be bored. You can, indeed must, combine learning from multiple fields and use all your brain. Technology, people skills, business, what you know about law, math, everything is important. That little snippet you heard two years ago in a hall becomes important when tracking an anomaly. That person you met over coffee holds the key to getting hold of some parts you need. All your skills are important.

What advice do you have for those just starting out in the field of systems engineering?

When you don't know what to do and feel paralyzed because of it, ask yourself, "What would I do if I DID know what to do?" I did this once and realized that was easy, I'd ask around to find out who were the experts, call a meeting, send some emails,... and boom, I was off and running again. Our range of responsibility is so broad we can't be the experts and so it is no shame when we don't know something. We have to be used to just pushing through the uncertainty. Often just doing SOMETHING will get us the information we need to get closer to where we need to be.

Carnegie Mellon University (Retired)
IEEE Region
Region 2 (Eastern U.S.)